Getting up early on the Sunday after the Cheltenham Festival isn’t an easy task but it’s well worth it this Sunday for those who enjoy high-class Flat racing. The BMW Hong Kong Derby will be live on Sky Sports Racing at 8.35 GMT and here are ten key things you need to know to get the most from one of the most colourful classics in the global racing calendar.
FURORE CAN LAY DOWN THE LOR IN THRILLING HK DERBY
1: The Hong Kong Derby differs from other Derbies in that it’s for four-year-olds rather than three-year-olds. But the fact that each horse gets just one shot at glory makes it a cherished prize among Hong Kong owners and this year’s field includes carefully-sourced imports from England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil.
2: The road to the Derby is lucrative and the Derby itself even more so. The two main trials are the Classic Mile (8f) and the Classic Cup (9f) - both worth £1m - while Sunday’s big race has a total prize fund of £1.8m.
3: European imports have a fair record in the last decade - with Collection (ex-William Haggas), Akeed Mofeed (ex-John Oxx) and Designs On Rome (ex-Pat Flynn) - all coming out on top. However, southern hemisphere horses form the bulk of equine imports into HK and that numerical advantage is reflected in the Derby roll of honour.
4: Much debate revolves around the draw, with a maximum field of 14 sent away from a 10f start in front of a packed grandstand, and a short run to the first bend poses even the best riders a tactical riddle.
A low draw would be preferable in a 14-runner handicap at the Derby trip but this is a level weights race in which at least half the field have a lot to find. Fay Fay and Ambitious Dragon both won from stall 14 in the last decade. Luger and Designs On Rome won from 12 and 10, while Ryan Moore scored from nine on Ping Hai Star last year. In short, the elite tend to find a way.
5: By contrast, horses who haven’t staked a persuasive Derby claim in the trials tend to struggle. The most notable number coming into the race isn’t the one relating to stall position but the official rating a horse has earned.
All the last ten winners had a triple figure mark coming into the race and longshot winners are very rare. The cards have been played one by one in absorbing fashion since Christmas and this season only four horses have joined the Hundred Club - namely Waikuku, Furore, Dark Dream and Mission Tycoon.
The BMW Hong Kong Derby is still three months away but the exciting Dark Dream lays down a very persuasive early marker for Frankie Lor by taking some strong Class 2 rivals apart from a rating of 92 under Silvestre de Sousa in R7. #HKracing pic.twitter.com/iIc2PLZjMX
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) December 23, 2018
6: Frankie Lor’s Dark Dream put his marker down early, thriving on a wet track under Silvestre de Sousa to power clear over the full Derby trip just before Christmas. He had a major excuse due to a torrid trip when fourth over a much shorter distance in the Classic Mile (which resulted in de Sousa losing the ride to Zac Purton) and a minor excuse when second in a Classic Cup that didn’t bring his stamina fully into play.
But he’s back to 10f now and that ought to suit him ideally.
Frankie Lor saddles five for a fascinating Hong Kong Classic Mile and comes away with three of the first four as Furore shows a fine turn of foot to win like a high-class horse under @HugeBowman #HKracing pic.twitter.com/depEeawqea
— HKJC Racing (@HKJC_Racing) January 27, 2019
7: Fellow Lor galloper Furore took full advantage of Dark Dream’s tough trip in the Classic Mile and stole a march on several rivals by switching left and causing a dramatic domino effect of interference. That said, there was a great deal to like about the way Frankie Lor’s gelding surged clear to clock a 22.25s final split and he was fastest over the final 2f again when fourth in a steadily-run Classic Cup that clearly favoured those ridden prominently.
Track position could be important again here, but Furore’s Aussie form suggests a step up to 10f will suit him very well and he looks a danger to all under Hugh Bowman.
8: The third Lor contender is aiming to prove the betting public wrong for the third time in a row. Mission Tycoon was 204-1 when he chased home Furore in the Classic Mile and a mere 91-1 when he made every yard to hold Dark Dream, Ka Ying Star and Furore in the Classic Cup.
It was interesting to hear champion trainer Size nominate him as a threat at Thursday’s draw ceremony. That endorsement is notable, but there’s no doubt Mission Tycoon had the run of things in the Classic Mile. It’s hard to see him getting so many favours when it matters most on his debut over 10f.
9: Former John Oxx galloper Waikuku has taken a different route into the big race than most and tops the ratings on 108 after a highly impressive handicap success over 9f here two weeks ago which saw him defy a wide draw and a big weight to thrash a useful field.
He’s drawn the outside gate and had a minor setback last weekend, but John Size can be relied on to have him in top shape and everything he’s done in recent weeks makes him a prime contender.
10: In conclusion, this year’s Derby has strong subplots. Size bids for his fourth Derby with Waikuku. His friend and former assistant Lor bids for his first in only his second season with three of the four highest rated players.
Tony Cruz bids for his third Derby success with Ka Ying Star and Helene Leadingstar. And Derek Leung (Mission Tycoon) and Vincent Ho (Ka Ying Star) bid to become the first homegrown jockeys to ride the Derby winner since the legendary Cruz drove Makarpura Star to victory in 1995.
The upwardly mobile Ho has a significant tactical role to play aboard Ka Ying Star, who progressed rapidly when known as Urban Aspect for Andrew Balding last year and is the horse most likely to press Mission Tycoon for the lead in the early stages.
Ka Ying Star has plenty of stamina in his pedigree and can go very well at a decent price if Vincent lets him roll off the bend, but logic suggests the Hundred Club will have the final say again.
Frankie Lor fears Waikuku and is right to do so. But he also feels that FURORE is the best of his powerful trio if they all get a clear shot at Derby glory. And he’s probably right on that score, too.